Russia signs border treaty with Estonia, last Baltic country to formalize frontier with Russia

The Associated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet exchange documents during a signing ceremony in Moscow, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Russia and Estonia signed a border treaty Tuesday, the last Baltic country to formalize its border with its giant neighbor. (AP Photo)

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By JARI TANNER and LAURA MILLS, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia signed a border treaty on Tuesday with Estonia, the last Baltic country to formalize its land and sea boundaries with its giant neighbor.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet in Moscow to sign the deal, which must be ratified by the parliaments of both countries.

A similar agreement in 2005 was shelved by Moscow because Estonian lawmakers added a preamble referring to the Baltic country's independence from 1918-1940 and the Soviet occupations from 1940-1941 and from 1944-1991.

Relations between Moscow and Tallinn have been lukewarm since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia has accused Estonia of discriminating against the 25 percent of its population that is ethnically Russian, both in education and acquiring citizenship.

Lavrov emphasized those issues but hailed the agreement as an "important step, rather than a pure formality." Paet noted that Lavrov would visit Estonia later this year, the first-ever by a Russian foreign minister.

"I don't think that between neighbors we should have such long pauses (between meetings), because we must talk about difficult issues," Paet said.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who has softened his tone toward Russia in recent years, celebrated the move as a "strategic and far-reaching decision."

Russia is Estonia's second largest trading partner after the EU, accounting for some 15 percent of the small country's foreign trade, and tourism between the two nations is increasing.

"The good news in Russia-Estonian relations over the past few years is the growing economic activity between the two," said professor Andres Kasekamp at the University of Tartu.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn welcomed the treaty, pledging in a statement to support "a neighborly and productive relationship between these two nations."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Twitter called the border deal "a significant development."

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Jari Tanner reported from Tallinn, Estonia.

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